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Ansell Pearson 2 Pli 9

Ansell Pearson 2 Pli 9

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Pli 
9 (2000), 248-56.
A Superior Existentialism
Pierre Klossowski,
Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle 
, translated byDaniel W. Smith (London: Athlone Press 1999)
KEITH ANSELL PEARSON
Thirty years after its publication in France in 1969 Klossowski’s
ViciousCircle
has been published into English in a superb translation by DanielSmith, well-known for both his excellent translations of, and commentarieson, Deleuze. Klossowski’s text is often compared in stature to such classicand momentous readings as Heidegger’s two-volume study, mostlycomposed of lectures given during 1936-40 and Deleuze’s 1962
 Nietzscheand Philosophy
. Such comparisons, however, miss the essential
incomparable
character of Klossowski’s text. It is one of those rare things,a text that is unique, singular, and incomparable. It may well be the mostextraordinary text on Nietzsche ever composed, as well as one of the mostdisconcerting and disquieting. It has a certain communion with Bataille’swritings, including his own text of Nietzsche, but on account of itstrenchant insights, exacting rigour, and exquisite precision, it goes waybeyond anything one encounters in Bataille’s book on Nietzsche. It is not abook that one can readily recommend as an essential text that anyoneconcerned with Nietzsche must read, simply because it is a quite terrifyingreading of Nietzsche. At the end of it the reader, or should I say thisreader, experiences utter vertigo. Where Bataille’s attempt to makeNietzsche impossible and unusable can often read like a series of unconvincing postures and poorly conceived riddles, in Klossowski’s textthese aspects of Nietzsche are pursued with an absolute rigour and asustained logic of disablement.Klossowski is a truly great writer and reader. His knowledge of Nietzsche’s texts, including many
 Nachlass
fragments from the 1880s(many of which do not appear in the English edition based on the Forster-
 
Keith Ansell Pearson249
Nietzsche compilation), as well as rare material from Nietzsche’sschooldays at Schulpforta (including a horror story called ‘Euphorion’), isimpressive. Klossowski has a rare understanding of the details of Nietzsche’s thinking and of what is truly at stake in it. His book takes usfurther into the treacherous depths of Nietzsche’s thought than any otherstudy I know. Reading the text afresh in translation in 1999 I had thedistinct feeling that its readers still lie in the future. The danger with thisbook is that it will be read too cavalierly in terms of the allegedfashionable tropes of deconstruction or poststructuralism, such as theincompleteness of meaning, the infinite play of interpretation, etc. Thiswould be a great shame since such institutionalised readings miss itscrucial dimension and fail to engage with what makes this such aconvincing and remarkable text, namely, the fact that it has penetrated thestrange depths of Nietzsche’s thought and shows what this amounts to, notonly for his critique of language and meaning, but for his engagement with‘life’ in terms of both a theory of knowledge and a theory of evolution.A certain and undetected Bergsonism hovers over the book, which Ishall touch on shortly. It strikes me, upon encountering a few of them, thatthe commentaries on this remarkable and singular text have completelyfailed to come to terms with what distinguishes it as a book on Nietzsche.They have understandably concentrated their focus on Klossowski’sprivileging of the experience of eternal return but this has been done inisolation from the rest of the book. As a result these commentaries providelittle more than perfunctory, even cavalier, comprehensions of the text.One recent commentator, for example, has classified it as moving from an‘existential’ reading of eternal return to a ‘deconstructive’ one.
1
But thisstrikes me as a lazy conception of the book and of how Klossowski seeksto unravel and to stage an encounter with the central problem of Nietzsche’s writing, that of teaching the unteachable (ultimately forKlossowski the thought of eternal return is unteachable and evenunthinkable – it is beyond thought, beyond communication in language,beyond the human condition). There is little that is deconstructive in thisbook, and the existentialism that informs its understanding of eternal return(as beyond language and social consciousness), takes its inspiration notfrom deconstruction but from Bergson, notably his supremely antinomicalmodernist tract,
Time and Free Will
.
 
1
D. Smith,
Transvaluations: Nietzsche in France 1872-1972
(Oxford: ClarendonPress, 1996), pp.150-164.
 
Pli 
9 (2000)250
For Klossowski, Nietzsche was a thinker of the near and distant future,a future he says which has now become our everyday reality. However,everything depends on knowing how we ought to read Nietzsche.Klossowski is ingenious in his response. He argues throughout the book that Nietzsche’s key thought-experiments are simulations and simulacraand that his thought unfolds in terms of the simulation of a ‘conspiracy’.The Nietzschean conspiracy is not, of course, that of a class but of anisolated individual ‘who uses the means of this class not only against hisown class, but also against the existing forms of the human species as awhole’ (p. xv). The second key component of the reading is the claim thatNietzsche’s thought revolves around delirium as its axis and, furthermore,that it is incredibly
lucid 
on this issue (Klossowski’s unfolding of thedrama of Nietzsche’s last days in Turin in his final chapter makes for sometruly chilling and remarkable reading since it demonstrates in a way that isboth convincing and unnerving that there was something completely lucidabout Nietzsche’s descent into muteness and madness). Klossowski insiststhat, conceived in terms of a project of delirium, Nietzsche’s thoughtcannot simply be labelled ‘pathological’. It is far too knowing about itself for this: ‘his thought was lucid to the extreme, it took on the appearance of a delirious interpretation – and also required the entire experimentalinitiative of the modern world’ (p. xvi). According to Klossowski,Nietzsche interrogates the nature and conditions of thinking and of philosophy – what is the act of thinking? what is philosophy? – like nothinker before or since. As a result he ended up producing a body of work that challenges both the principle of identity (the authority of language, of the code, of the institution) and the reality principle (consciousness, thesubject, the ego, substance, etc.). His new demonstration – ‘required byinstitutional language for the teaching of reality’ – takes the form of themovements of a ‘declarative mood’. Ultimately this contagious mood, orwhat Klossowski calls the ‘tonality of the soul’, supplants thedemonstration and both thought and life become ‘mute’. The limits of theprinciples of identity and reality are inevitably and inexorably reached. Bythe end of the Introduction of the book we have in place a theme that willbecome one of the text’s most important features: the opposition between‘culture’ (society, language, and consciousness), which is based on theintention to teach and learn, and the tonality of the soul, which operates onthe level of 
intensities
that can be neither taught nor learnt. This oppositionis a dramatic transposition into the heart of Nietzsche’s darkness of theessential thematic of Bergson’s first published text,
Time and Free Will
.

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